Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 4:30 pm, 7th November 2016

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in this debate. For the sake of clarity—I correct myself as well—this is a clause stand part debate rather than a debate on an amendment to Clause 17.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Murphy and Lord Kinnock, for moving and speaking to the Motion that the clause do not stand part. I disagree with their intent. As the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, said, we have been here for nearly 20 years since the first successful referendum in 1997. Circumstances massively changed in that time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, said.

Let me try to deal with some of the points. Circumstances have changed since the Silk commission’s first report. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has been consistent on this topic, as has the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock. I confess that I have not. I am more like the brother-in-law of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford: I have changed my mind on some of these issues. I should set that out first. In the Silk commission, all four parties recognised the need for income tax powers for the National Assembly for Wales. If it was to become a full legislature in the proper sense, it was accepted that it needed income tax powers. Some noble Lords have used the phrase as if it meant all income tax powers; of course, it does not; some income tax powers remain with the United Kingdom. We should make clear that this is not transferring all income tax powers; it is transferring some. It is a significant change, I agree, but the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, for example, that it is a fundamental, apocalyptic change to the way things happen but that it will not be exercised is somewhat inconsistent. It cannot be both apocalyptic and not be used.

I very much hope that it will be used. We cannot necessarily draw conclusions from what has been happening in Scotland. I hope that the National Assembly for Wales will be more imaginative. I was there for 12 years, and there was evidence of a lot of free thinking on many issues, not least in this area, so I do not accept that the power will not be used. We must realise that it is a limited power; it is not transferring all income tax powers to Wales.

I agree with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, and the noble Lords, Lord Wigley, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Morgan, about circumstances having changed, that perhaps we make use of referendums too freely, and that they are not always appropriate. I feel that if we were to insist on a referendum, it is arguable that we would be holding Wales back. In some quarters—I certainly exempt the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock from this—it is being put forward as a means of trying to defeat the proposal or slow things down. We would not be doing Wales a great service if we did that. This is a power for a purpose, as was identified by the Silk commission. It is bringing in accountability. It is making what I hope becomes the Welsh Parliament, in name as well as reality, a real Parliament with this element of tax-raising power on income tax.